God, Self, and Fellow: Community in the Religious Literature of the Middle Ages and Renaissance

Mahlika Hopwood, Fordham University


Throughout its history, Christianity has engendered a diverse and shifting array of approaches to selfhood and community. The literature of the West has, in turn, realized these various modes and enacted them through multiple voices. During the medieval period and the early modern era, both largely defined by a multiplicity of Christian traditions and confessions, the question of how human interpersonal ties affect the private devotional life becomes intriguingly complex for the individual and the larger world. On the one hand, negative theology, forms of apophatic mysticism, and the contemplative life itself advocate a turn from the senses, the realm of images, and in many cases, community, where the later is defined in terms of concrete interpersonal interaction. By contrast, positive theology, strains of cataphatic mysticism, and the active life elevate sensory and imagistic devotional models while prizing community as a beneficial path to union with God. This study examines the potential tensions between these paths by analyzing spaces of devotional solitude in a selection of medieval and early modern religious texts, specifically The Cloud of Unknowing, Julian of Norwich’s A Revelation of Love, Chrétien de Troyes’ Perceval, and George Herbert’s The Temple. The study argues for the presence and relevance of human community within ostensibly private forms of devotion and the spaces of solitude which define them. Through its development, the argument challenges many critical assumptions regarding autonomy and self identity while simultaneously disrupting perceived divisions between the medieval and early modern periods, Catholicism and Protestantism, and traditional delineations of space and place. In its broadest scope, the work envisions an alternate and transhistorical model of interpersonal relations predicated through confluence.

Subject Area

Medieval literature|Religion|British and Irish literature

Recommended Citation

Hopwood, Mahlika, "God, Self, and Fellow: Community in the Religious Literature of the Middle Ages and Renaissance" (2016). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI10240742.